My wife and I drove into Denver the other evening for a night out. As we emerged from the Alameda underpass going north on I-25, several locomotives leading a coal train south thundered by on the tracks just to our right.
As we neared Colfax, the Zuni power plant’s stacks skewered the evening sky on the west side of the Platte River to our left.
The sinews of a modern industrial nation. But largely for environmental reasons, the continued viability of both appears to be in question. At this point, the general contours of what is driving these developments are both well publicized and well known. What may surprise, however, is what is not being said.
Originally coal fired, the Zuni plant is part of the world’s oldest continuously operated commercial heating district. Powered by natural gas now, it has been producing steam and electricity since it came on line in 1900. This particular station is slated to be closed as early as 2017, but there is a need for other plants to fill the demand for steam when it is gone.
As for coal, its future seems to be even more tenuous-at least in this country. In 2010, HB-1365 was introduced in the Colorado General Assemble to shutter a number of Front Range coal fired power plants to convert them to natural gas. Given the moniker, “The Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act“, I was one of the few members of the House, of either party, who voted against it.
The politics of the bill were confused. Republicans of my party supported it because it appeared to be an easy way to burnish their environmental credentials by supporting the replacement of coal with cleaner burning, but more expensive, natural gas. It was also a bone for the West slope natural gas industry that was then struggling with low prices and excess supply.
Democrats, and their environmentalist backers, supported it because natural gas is perceived as a “bridge fuel“, transitioning us from reliance on “dirty fossil fuels” of all sorts and, ultimately, leading to a rapid change over to very expensive (and less reliable ) “renewable” alternatives, such as solar and wind.
After breezing through the House, the initial bi-partisan consensus largely dissolved in the Senate. It become political hot potato for its Republican sponsor, former Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, among his more conservative colleagues. And, in fact, may have played a role in the demise of his gubernatorial aspirations.
Be that as it may, when Governor Bill Ritter signed the bill into law it marked the beginning of the ongoing “War on Coal” in Colorado. And a minor skirmish in the same battle on a national scale.
The impetus behind 1365 came from a host of Colorado environmental groups and their national associations.
Ironically, however, there is an elephant in the environmental room that is being entirely ignored by the very same organizations: our nation’s soaring population, eighty-some percent of which is driven by immigration, both legal and illegal. How do I know it’s being ignored?
Because I asked. Pam Kiely is one of the Colorado’s most prominent environmental lobbyists. In 2012, a I co-sponsored a bill that would have required all employers to use the E-Verify system to confirm that job applicants were in the US legally at the time of hire. The effect of the bill would have been to eliminate the employment magnet that draws so many illegals to Colorado. If you think the bill would be a great fit for environmental groups concerned about the preservation of natural our resources, you would be wrong. When I asked Kiely why her organizations couldn’t support my legislation, she gave the evasive reply, “We need to look at the population issue on a global scale. Not just in the US.”
Well, that might be so. But before we start worrying about what’s going on in, say, China or Africa, why don’t we try to address the issue right in our own back yards? Of course, some claim that it is “racist” to even discuss the connection between pollution and US immigration policy. But who, with a straight face, can deny that a country of 417 million by as early as 2051 isn’t going to generate more pollution, less open space, more trash, more endless housing tracts, more traffic, and more crowded schools than is currently the case for a nation of 319 million? And if nearly 100 million more people isn’t going to result in more climate change, et cetera, when will the tipping point be reached? And do we really want to find out?
So what caused Pam Kiely’s environmental groups, including the venerable Sierra Club, to morph from the organization that helped triggered population alarmism by playing a key role in the publication of Paul Erich’s 1968 best seller, The Population Bomb to the Dr. Stangelovian posture of no longer worrying and, instead, loving the population bomb? At least as it concerns the United States.
If you guessed money, you’re right. In fact, a cool $200 million. In an October 27, 2004 story reported by the Los Angles Times, it was revealed that ultra-rich donor, David Gelbaum, demanded that the Club change its long held position resisting the flood of immigrants into this country, despite any environmental harm that would result. Kenneth Weiss, author of the Times article, quoted Gelbaum as saying this to the Club’s Executive Director, Carl Pope:
“I did tell Carl Pope in 1994 or 1995 that if they ever came out anti-immigration, they would never get a dollar from me.”
So, over the protests of many of its less affluent but more environmentally conscientious members, including former Colorado Governor Richard Lamm, the Sierra Club backed down from its long held stance on immigration. And pocketed the cash.
As my wife and I drove home after our night out, we stopped at a light behind a ramshackled, exhaust belching vehicle headed toward I-25 across the street from the REI flagship store. The car had Mexican plates. Two things crossed my mind: are the occupants here legally? And do they have insurance? I don’t know. But, political correctness aside, what would your guess be?
The United States is already the world’s third most populous country. It also has the highest population growth rate of all developed countries-almost entirely due to immigration, legal and illegal. Is it important that we take reasonable measures to protect our environment? Yes. But I voted against HB-1365 anyway because I don’t like the idea of the government picking favorites in the energy business. Especially when consumers, particularly low income consumers, suffer in the process. But legislation such as 1365-and even more draconian measures-will simply be overwhelmed by a tidal wave of immigrants if we are not willing to face the real issue-immigration fueled population growth-squarely. And, dare I say it, adopt the immigration policies that were for so long held by The Sierra Club?